Charles Dickens led a life as full of incident as any of those he created in his novels. From his poverty-stricken childhood to a career as the most acclaimed and best-loved writer in the English-speaking world, he was perhaps the first true celebrity of the popular arts. Jane Smiley, herself a Pulitzer Prize winner, approaches her subject with a fresh perspective, evoking Dickens as he might have seemed to his contemporaries: charming, astute and boundlessly energetic. But, as Smiley makes clear, Dickens was not only a prolific writer, but also an editor, social theorist and passionate campaigner for the common good. She touches, too, on controversial details that include Dickens's obsession with money, squabbles with publishers, his unhappy marriage, and the rumours of an affair.